For many Republicans in Congress, the senators who have raised their voices against President Trump displayed principles, integrity and heartfelt concerns.
But don’t expect others to follow that lead.
Despite the dire assessments of retiring Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee — Corker worries Trump is debasing the nation, Flake regrets the erosion of civil norms — other GOP members still appear more focused on the promise of a president in the White House who can sign Republican bills into law.
On Wednesday, Republicans returned quickly to business, rushing to unveil tax-cut legislation next week in hopes of passing a bill in the House by Thanksgiving and sending it to the president’s desk by the end of the year.
Though other colleagues have shared some of Flake’s and Corker’s views about Trump, none said so publicly after their remarks.
Most shrugged when asked whether they too were uneasy about the president’s conduct and actions. Many declined to pile on to the criticism or rile Trump supporters back home. Others attempted to downplay the rift, dismissing the senators’ complaints as personality clashes.
“Instead of focusing on the president, I have enough criticisms of Congress — our unwillingness to do things,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). “My view is my time and energy is better spent trying to solve the problems I’m directly involved in than to deal with the House of Representatives or the president of the United States.”
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and an early Trump supporter, said that as a New Yorker he understood that people in other parts of the country were uncomfortable with the president’s brash style.
“He’s a disrupter. When you disrupt the status quo, the status quo doesn’t roll over; it’s going to fight back,” he said. “From a New Yorker’s perspective, meh. I get the concern…. Overall, I’m comfortable.”
Flake, who made an impassioned critique of Trump on the Senate floor Tuesday while announcing he would not run for reelection in 2018, said in TV interviews Wednesday that he hoped his colleagues were at a “tipping point.”
He told MSNBC: “We are excusing undignified and outrageous and reckless speech and behavior as ‘telling it like it is.’ … That's not right.”
Trump brushed off the attacks, tweeting Wednesday that Flake and Corker “had zero chance of being elected.”
But the public dissent exposed the challenges ahead for the Republican Party, which has splintered even further since Trump won its presidential nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — and much of their majority in the House and Senate — continue to bet that it’s best to try to work with the White House, even if they bristle at the president’s uneven style and temperament, in hopes of molding Trump to their policy positions. Their goal is to eventually join in Rose Garden bill-signing ceremonies on GOP priorities.
Others, though, see a deeper societal churn underway, not only in the Republican Party but in the nation’s broader civil institutions, which are confronting new questions about their purpose and relevance at a time of cultural unrest.
“Do we honestly think the president created this? … This is what we’ve become as a society,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in an interview with reporters Wednesday.
“The Republican Party is going through a moment of realignment internally — an internal debate about what the party’s going to be about, what it’s going to represent in years to come,” he said. “And by the way, so is every institution in America, from higher education to the media. Everyone is going through the exact same internal debate, and that is: What is our role and function in this new era?”
As a former presidential rival of Trump, Rubio has experience in this realm, having stooped to trash talk on the campaign trail when Trump derided him as “Little Marco” only to see the mudslinging backfire and sully his own image.
Rubio questioned whether the United States is losing its social mooring much the way Rome did before the empire’s decline.
“The president has a way of expressing himself, and it’s appealed to a lot of very frustrated people…. By the same token, we have to understand that a republic really can’t function unless there are some norms of behavior…. Having some sort of balance in how we interact with one another is not just a nice thing to do. A republic actually can’t function without that.”
Rubio added, “How can you possibly work together on issues if everybody hates each other?”